Prominent lawyer files for bankruptcy


‘I feel absolutely terrible,’ Vandor says

OTTAWA — Among other things, Les Vandor practises bankruptcy law. So it’s more than a little ironic that the prominent Ottawa lawyer is himself now grappling with personal bankruptcy.


Vandor, who writes a weekly column on real estate law for the Citizen and for 17 years dispensed legal advice to callers on CBC radio, filed for bankruptcy last month. He claimed assets of $102,973 and liabilities of $152,206.


“I feel absolutely terrible,” Vandor said. “I feel bad for the creditors. I feel bad just to be in this situation.”


Being a public figure, he said, “opens you up to more attacks, more scrutiny. You run into business situations and you get scrutinized because of your profile, and you hope to come out and start again.”


All Vandor’s creditors are unsecured. Most are credit card companies — AMEX, Visa, MasterCard and MBNA Canada, a subsidiary of a U.S. bank.


Others include the Canada Revenue Agency, the Rideau Club, Impark Ottawa and Lang Michener, the firm where he worked as an associate until January. The firm claims he owes nearly $48,000.


There will be a creditors’ meeting July 6, Vandor said, likely at the offices of the bankruptcy trustee, Collins Barrow Brown Inc. Trustee David Brown refused comment this week.


Vandor, who has practised law for 27 years, lists few assets — no cash, $11,300 in household furniture and effects, $5,650 in personal effects and just $23 in an RRSP.


His largest “asset” — $86,000 — is an unpaid fee for litigation conducted for a client, which he identified as Doyle Salewski Inc., a bankruptcy trustee firm.


Vandor said his failure to collect that money for work he did in 2005 on the receivership of Primforce Real Estate Investment Inc. is at the root of his financial problems.


“Had they paid me, there would be no issue. It’s not like I lived a lavish lifestyle. You do hard work, you bill someone $86,000, and they don’t pay you.”


Vandor is now suing Doyle Salewski for the money. A civil trial is set for 2010.


However, Brian Doyle, owner and manager of Doyle Salewski, denied that his company owes Vandor anything. “He didn’t act for us personally, and he fails to recognize that,” he said.


Doyle Salewski, in turn, is suing Vandor.


Doyle also questioned Vandor’s claim that his failure to collect the disputed $86,000 triggered his bankruptcy.


“It may sound like a lot of money to some people, but a lot of lawyers would be astonished at that amount of money being the cause of a bankruptcy,” he said. “Lawyers bill many hundreds of thousands of dollars in a year, and normally protect themselves appropriately.”


Vandor also has two large “contingent” creditors, each owed about $300,000 — the Royal Bank and TD Canada Trust.


One is a mortgage on the two-storey 1881 farmhouse near Almonte where he lives. The house, which sits on 40 hectares, is now listed for sale for $976,000.


The house is owned, Vandor said, by a company in which he has an interest. If it sells, he would get some, but not all, of the proceeds.


The other contingent liability relates to a mortgage he guaranteed on his ex-spouse’s property as part of a divorce settlement. The property was recently sold, and if his ex-wife pays off the loan, “it’s not a problem,” Vandor said.


Compounding Vandor’s woes, the Law Society of Upper Canada is investigating complaints against him from his former firm, Lang Michener.


In an e-mail to the Citizen, the law society says Vandor has agreed not to practise law “until the investigations, and any resulting disciplinary proceedings, are concluded.”


Vandor agreed that his legal practice is on hold until the law society issues have been resolved. In the meantime, “I’m allowed to do the media work,” he said. “That’s not a problem.”


According to Vandor, Lang Michener claims he made some disbursements that weren’t authorized by a client, a claim he disputes. Vandor, who has lodged complaints of his own against Lang Michener, says the firm owes him money for billings he generated. The firm disagrees.


Michael Rankin, Lang Michener’s senior managing partner, didn’t want to get into the details of the dispute, saying it was part of “an internal reconciling of accounts” between the firm and the lawyer.


He said Vandor, who had a contractual arrangement with Lang Michener, “wasn’t happy with the arrangement anymore, so he indicated he was moving on.”


Told that, Mr. Vandor laughed. “That’s a fair comment,” he said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the business arrangement. I wasn’t being paid.”


Despite his recent problems, Vandor said he remains upbeat.


“I’m an optimistic person by nature. One way or another, people who owe me money will either pay or settle in some way, shape or form and through the trustee, the people will be paid.”


There is life, he said, after bankruptcy. “It’s not the old debtors’ prison, where they threw you in jail. It’s now a way to start fresh.”


Asked where he’ll live if his house sells, Vandor joked, “I’ll find a trailer somewhere.”